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Veterinarian Technician May 2007 (Vol 28, No 5) Focus: Rescue and Rehab

Management Matters: "Performance Evaluations"

by Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

    Author's Note

    As an employee, I look forward to the evaluation of my job performance. I have a desire to know what I'm doing right and what needs to be improved. Yet as a manager, I find that many of my team members dread their own performance evaluations. In fact, as I network with more and more managers, I discover that many don't particularly enjoy writing performance evaluations for their employees. I believe that both team members and managers can benefit from understanding why they have this gut reaction and can overcome it to make performance evaluations a positive experience on both sides of the table. It starts with the paperwork itself, encompasses the mood and mode of delivery, and ends with the challenge of new goals. No matter which of the following reactions you currently experience as a team member or a manager, you can overcome the dread and make this your best evaluation yet!

    To understand what is expected of their performance, employees need information up front. This begins with the recruitment process, before a position is even offered. A copy of the job description should be part of the interview package, along with any supplemental information that explains the performance standards of the practice and position. Then the evaluation form should be created directly from this job description, so that the employee and the manager are on the same page and know what to expect. During new-hire orientations, the evaluation process and forms should be presented and reviewed and questions answered. Starting a business relationship this way can help diminish some of the following gut reactions to evaluations.

    What Have You Done for Me Lately?

    It is human nature to remember the most recent events. This can be a problem when an evaluation spans 6 or, especially, 12 months. However, the solution can be found in the manager's credo: Document, document, document! This rule applies to all aspects of human resource management, and the performance evaluation is no different. What is different — and challenging — is that to build a fair evaluation, managers must gather documentation throughout the evaluation period, using the method that works best for them. Some managers keep notes of employees' accomplishments as well as skills that need improvement. It is also advisable to take notes during conversations about future goals or past performance. If these meetings involve disciplinary action, the manager should have the employee sign the documentation.

    Another method of tracking performance is to ask employees to submit weekly or monthly reports. These reports can list ongoing assigned projects, tasks completed, skills learned, CE attended, and other contributions, such as covering an extra shift or staying late when asked. The manager can then accumulate these reports to use when writing the evaluation.

    The amount of paperwork involved is often why managers dread writing evaluations. However, if the process is streamlined and the paperwork collected along the way, recalling the details of an employee's performance is not so difficult come evaluation time. Whatever method is used, employee performance needs to be assessed consistently over the entire evaluation period to produce a fair and representative evaluation at the end.

    Did I Make the Grade?

    In my experience, any evaluation form that links performance with a number scale leads both parties to believe that there is a score or grade involved. Whether the scale runs from 1 to 5, 1 to 100, or 1 to 10,000 does not matter: We tend to think of a number as a grade, and we are taught from the beginning of our school years that the best students make A's. The truth is, not every employee is going to score 90% or above all the time. Yet delivering the news to a "B" employee is difficult. Average or "C" employees may be discouraged by their score, resulting in a setback in any ongoing coaching. As a manager, you can eliminate these issues by removing all numbers or any other representation of grade or score from the evaluation form. Instead, focus on the standards that the practice expects from each position and each task and write them into your evaluation form with reference to the job description. Now compare the employee's performance to the standard to determine whether he or she is "below standard," "meeting standard," or "above standard." This eliminates the emotional baggage that comes with a number system and allows you and the em­ployee to focus on what the practice standards are and how to reach them.

    You Wanted Me to Do What?

    The golden rule of evaluations is that nothing said at an evaluation meeting should be a surprise. This is especially true of negative feedback, but it can also apply to positive comments. Responses to events, whether praise for a job well done or correction of a mistake or problem, should follow the events as soon as possible. Following this rule allows the evaluation meeting to be a review of performance issues that are already known to both parties.

    Show Me the Money!

    Some managers believe that salary increases should be discussed during the evaluation meeting, yet it is frequently recognized that the employee may not pay attention to the discussion if he or she is waiting for money to be mentioned. Although any salary increase should certainly be linked to individual performance, it can be discussed at a later date, after there has been time to focus on performance. If an employee deserves a raise before the paperwork can be completed or the evaluation is due, giving a salary in­crease before an evaluation can be appropriate. The management style of the manager and the culture of the practice will determine whether the evaluation and the salary discussion are separate conversations, but the goal is to ensure that the employee focuses on his or her performance and realizes that the conversation is not only about money.

    What Do You Know?

    As a member of a team, an em­ployee works with everyone, not just the hospital or practice manager. In a larger practice, the top manager may be the least likely person to know the day-to-day performance of an individual on the "floor." If this manager is the only one providing insight into a performance evaluation, then the evaluation will not be based on complete and accurate information.

    For this reason, most managers are learning the value of 360° reviews. The premise of this style of review is that feedback is collected from the individual being evaluated, his or her coworkers, and all levels of management in the practice. When this feedback is solicited, it should be made clear that the purpose is to collect objective, measurable information that can be easily translated into the final evaluation. To encourage open communication, it should also be stated that all peer feedback will be kept confidential.

    How Do I Do This?

    If a 360° review process is used, the same evaluation form can be given to all peers and managers as long as it is focused on whether the employee meets the standards for various tasks and traits. If the reviewing manager's employee evaluation form is focused on these standards, this form or an abridged version of it should be used to develop the peer evaluation form. The peer evaluation form can even include examples of what constitutes meeting the standard. For example, the section of the form that measures the employee's contributions to the practice might consist of the following:


    Trait: Contribution

    Standard: Includes offering assistance or accepting additional workload without complaint.

    Subjective feedback (not desired): "I feel that Jane is a great coworker."

    Objective feedback (desired): "Jane is a flexible team member; she covered two of my sick days for me this year on short notice."

    Your feedback:______________________________________________________________________________


    The self-evaluation should include insightful questions designed to lead to goal setting and self-improvement, such as the ­following:

    • What are the areas in which you need improvement?
    • What would you like to learn?
    • Where do you see yourself in a year?

    Managers who use a 360° review process can assign and collect all review forms and schedule meetings according to a timetable such as the following:

    • Two weeks before the evaluation date: Assign the self-evaluation to the employee and request peer evaluations from the entire staff. Make the peer evaluation mandatory for the employee's direct supervisor, other supervisory staff that have direct contact with the employee, and a handful of peers. Ideally, you should collect a minimum of four to eight peer reviews. At this time, schedule the next meeting with the employee to review the self-evaluation.
    • One week before the evaluation date: Meet with the employee to discuss the self-evaluation, focusing on what he or she feels needs improving. Often, these are the same traits or skills you have noticed as the employee's manager. Discuss goals with the employee and develop a plan for improving skills and reaching these goals. This may include discussion of CE opportunities, skills training, desire for advancement, and long-term aspirations for the employee's contribution to the practice. At this time, schedule the evaluation date.
    • In the week before the evaluation date: Write the evaluation and review peer feedback. The approach to reviewing and incorporating peer feedback differs based on the manager's personal preference. I collect peer evaluations before writing my evaluation; however, I do not look at peer comments until after I have expressed my own thoughts in writing. Then I read the peer evaluations to see whether my impressions and observations are typical of those of the employee's peers. I may adjust my evaluation if there is overwhelming disagreement, or I may meet with a peer to clarify a comment or situation. I then add quotes from the peer evaluations directly into the final evaluation to highlight my comments. Generally, I use positive feedback, but negative feedback may have its place if many peers have noticed the same problem. All quotes are attributed to "peer comment" rather than the name of the source.
    • Evaluation date: This meeting is now to confirm and document the previous discussion of goals, as well as any conversations that addressed positive or negative events during the evaluation period. The final performance evaluation form should include a space for the employee to write his or her own comments or rebuttal and a place for all parties to sign. If the final evaluation has been approved by a human resource manager or top administrator, this person's signature should also be included. Offer a photocopy of the form to the employee so that he or she can track the plan that was decided upon and documented, and file the original in the employee's private personnel file.

    Now What?

    Just because the performance evaluation has been completed and filed does not mean that it should be forgotten. At subsequent meetings, the manager and the employee should both refer back to the improvement and advancement plan to note progress. The next official performance evaluation should then acknowledge successes or restate that there is continued need for improvement.

    The most important thing to remember is that evaluations are a tool for growth for the employee, manager, and practice. They are reflections of the past, goals for the future, and guidelines for continued performance. The evaluation is a dynamic document that has a life beyond the paper on which it is printed, so managers should create an atmosphere in the practice in which everyone can embrace the purpose of the evaluation process (see ).

    NEXT: On the Cover: "A Talk with Angela Martin Licari, CVT"


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